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JGR Real Estate overhauls former Stockbridge pawnshop to create new, modern office space

When Julie Grevengoed first opened JGR Real Estate back in 2009, the second-floor East Hills agency was born into a tricky time for the housing market. 

In the past six years, however, Grevengoed’s real estate and brokerage agency has managed to find its place in Grand Rapids’ residential market and as a result has recently opened its doors in a newly renovated Stockbridge storefront located at 600 Bridge St. NW. 

“I was in East Hills before and I loved it there — it has a great business community and was a great space — but I was outgrowing it,” says Grevengoed, who worked with Wolverine Building Group over the past few months to bring a run-down former pawnshop into the modern age with a massive rehab effort that brightens up its 2,500-square-foot ground floor with an open floor plan, clean lines and big windows. 

With the lease on her former Cherry Street offices up, Grevengoed says she noticed the space within the first 24 hours it was posted. At first glance, it wasn’t much to look at, but she says the building’s original tin ceilings won her over 

“I walked in and it's got these really cool tin ceilings and even though everything wasn't as great, that was something that I thought, 'Man, this could be really cool,” she says. “…It was just one big room when I got it and even though I'm using it as offices, I still wanted to maintain kind of an open feel, so we have a lot of windows.”

She says the residential housing market is in significantly better shape than it was when JGR Real Estate first opened its doors in 2009, and because her agency also includes a brokerage arm, she’s had more agents coming in to work under her license in the past few years.

The new space, she says, opens her agency up to a new residential market on Grand Rapids’ west side and allows for JGR Real Estate to continue to grow more comfortably. 

“I'm excited about this place because I have so much more room,” Grevengoed says. “I was really reserved in trying to ask people to come on board with me because I just didn't have a place to put them, but now I do so that's great.” 

To see before and after photos of the dramatic transformation of its new Bridge Street office space, click here to find JGR Real Estate on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of JGR Real Estate 

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Well House to open three more houses, expand garden with $475,000 Kellogg grant

Thanks to a three-year, $475,000 grant approved by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation last week, local nonprofit Well House will purchase three more houses to add to its nine existing homes, all dedicated to providing access to affordable housing, healthy food, employment opportunities and community engagement.

Well House purchases vacant, boarded up homes from the Kent County Land Bank Authority and brings them up to code to create shared, low-cost, permanent housing solutions for people who have been living on the streets or in shelters. 

Tami VandenBerg, executive director of Well House, says two of the new homes will be allocated for families at risk of immediate separation. 

"Families that are homeless will often be separated into different shelters or between family members, or children are placed in foster care," she says. "Our goal is to keep families together." 

The remaining house will be the first from Well House allocated specifically for homeless youth, the two major at-risk groups being those aging out of foster care and LGBT youth. 

"What a lot of youth has done before is just find someone who would take them in, and unfortunately, those aren't always the healthiest situations," VandenBerg says. "I'm hopeful that this will help avoid some situations where they might not be safe." 

With five existing plots for food-growing in downtown Grand Rapids, a portion of the grant will also go to expanding the Well House Urban Farm and creating new employment opportunities for tenants working on the farm and helping with the rehabilitation of new housing. 

VandenBerg says Well House's "housing first" model is an evidence-based approach to solving homelessness, championing the idea that a homeless individual or household's first and primary need is stable housing. 

Since VandenBerg became executive director of Well House in January 2013, 68 people have been moved out of homelessness and into permanent housing. Eighty-eight percent of those individuals have remained at Well House or located other housing of their choice. 

At $275 per month for a single room, Well House has a waiting list of anywhere between 40-45 applicants and has received more than 320 applications in the past two years alone. 

"I think the biggest change I've seen in the last 10 or 20 years is that we're talking about it a lot right now," VandenBerg says. "Back in the day, when I started out, we really just weren't talking about it much. It was certainly an issue, but we just sent everybody to the bridge and if they were full everyone was just out of luck. The really good news is that this issue is on the radar." 

For more information, visit www.wellhousegr.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Well House 

Peaches Cafe opens doors at former Eastown deli

Located at the former home of Eastown Deli at 410 Ethel SE, a new eatery has opened its doors in the heart of Eastown. 

Peaches Café will serve customers healthy wrapped sandwiches with a Mediterranean flair, inspired by owner Hossein Sadat's background as a native Iranian. 

Currently, the diner is testing out a temporary menu for its soft opening phase that includes roast beef and chicken wraps or salads, all featuring Persian, Syrian and Turkish influences and spices. A full menu, including entrees and vegetarian options, will be available soon. 

Sandwiches are priced at $8.50 and come with rice, and Sadat says future entrees will likely be $10 or under.

Peaches Cafe is currently offering lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. with the exception of Mondays. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Goodwill's upscale thrift shop Blue gets a brand reboot with new Eastown store

A few months after outgrowing its 800-square-foot MoDiv incubator retail space, the Goodwill upscale boutique formerly called Blue has reopened its doors in Eastown, with new inventory and a new name to match its brand reboot.

Located at 1423 Lake Dr., Re-Blue is essentially an evolution of the former Blue, which joined the Grand Rapids marketplace in 2012 as only the second location nationwide of the Goodwill Industries brainchild. 

Jill Wallace is chief of marketing and communications at Goodwill and says Re-Blue’s new 1,700-square-foot Eastown space allows them to carry a much larger selection of designer apparel, accessories and home goods — including a new dedicated men’s section — than it could with its limited start-up floor space.

Created as a revenue stream by the nonprofit to help fund job training, placement and employment retention programs in the area, Re-Blue exists in the same spirit of second chances as its parent organization. 

However, unlike Goodwill, Re-Blue is armed with an inventory that is a much more deliberate curation of eclectic, vintage-inspired finds. And though Wallace says a good chunk of the jewelry and some of the home decor for sale there are brand new items, the bulk of Re-Blue’s sales are for clothing and accessories salvaged from one of Goodwill’s 17 West Michigan stores. 

“We’re coining it as ‘His, hers, and home,’ but we have an entire section of men's items here, which we didn’t have at the MoDiv,” Wallace says. “We have a much larger section of home goods and the items are more eclectic. It’s got a vintage appeal.”

She said the eclectic Re-Blue brand sort of inherently aligns with the Eastown lifestyle and aesthetic, whose younger population champions individualism and has an appreciation for the nostalgia of vintage-inspired garb.   

“What we hope for is that we see this in other markets. Maybe it’s a little different in each market, but obviously every demographic has a life of its own and this will have a life of its own,” Wallace says. “It might look a little different if it were in Cascade or Rockford, but here in Eastown this model works really well.” 

Visit Re-Blue Boutique on Facebook for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of Re-Blue/Goodwill

Ribbon cutting kicks off opening of new GR Home for Veterans outdoor amphitheater

Alongside partners at the nonprofit Finish the Mission Veteran Relief Fund, the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans held a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday to celebrate the rebirth of an outdated 1970s-era band shell at its 3000 Monroe Ave. NE campus after nearly six months of extensive renovations.  

Originally built in 1976, Finish the Mission Board of Directors Chairman Thomas Antor says rebuilding the old, crumbling structure was a top priority for organization leaders at GRHV, who haven’t been able to factor funding the renovation into the budget for nearly two decades.

“I made a commitment that it would be our number one goal to replace that structure, regardless of how much money we raised during the Freedom Cruise, we would make it happen,” says Antor, a Kent County commissioner whose nonprofit organization works to generate revenue through its week-long annual West Michigan Freedom Cruise. 

“These guys love music, that's the one thing they all love probably more than anything else,” he says. “There’s one guy named James there and he sits down there everyday. I call him the Centurion because he's always down there. A lot of these guys watched this being built — it gives them something to take pride in. They feel like they’re a part of it.” 

With a brand new electrical system for maximum sound capability and clusters of large oak trees surrounding the lawn to shade concert goers, Antor says the amphitheater is now armed with capabilities that extend to enhance the other events GRHV hosts there each year such as its Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies, fish fry, and family carnival.

GRHV will operate the new venue, which is open to the larger public to come and see performances, as well as rent out the space for others to host their own events. 

The new amphitheater was dedicated to Antor’s father, WWII vet and former resident Gerald Albert Antor — a small display of gratitude to both the man himself and the work Finish the Mission Veteran Relief Fund does for veterans in Grand Rapids through its annual West Michigan Freedom Cruise event in June. 

“100 percent of proceeds from the event — every dime of it — goes back to West Michigan vets,” Antor says. “There are no administrative costs, because there are no paid positions here, we’re all volunteers.”

Antor says proceeds from this years’ event are earmarked for an even bigger undertaking than an amphitheater — the 49-bed GRHV solarium where over 90 percent of the residents can rarely leave the unit due to special needs, and require one-on-one supervision if they do. 

“That project is way, way overdue,” he says, adding that the current building is less of a home and more of an “institution” due to it the crumbling Civil War-era infrastructure

“If we're gonna call it a veterans home, let’s rebuild it from the ground up and give it those features,” he says. “Let’s make it warmer and friendlier and help them rebuild their rooms so it feels more like a home and less like an institution.” 

Some say it’s a bit of a lofty goal, but Antor says that’s exactly what they were going for.  

“We set the goals really high because that keeps the fire lit underneath us and we're going to do everything we can to get that done,” he says. 

For more information on the West Michigan Freedom Cruise and Finish the Mission Veterans Relief Fund, visit www.freedomcruise.net. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction Co. 

Terryberry announces $2.6M renovation project, plans to add 53 new jobs with MSF training grant

Grand Rapids-based firm Terryberry announced a $2.6 million expansion project last week that will help the provider of employee recognition programs and custom awards renovate, expand and add 53 new jobs at its 2033 Oak Industrial Drive NE manufacturing facility. 

"We had hired a lot of individuals last year here in Grand Rapids and in other locations," says Mike Byam, fourth-generation managing partner at Terryberry. "We started adding some roles in earnest back in March – we've got 10 full-time positions already this year, and my guess is it'll be at least that many if not twice as many prior to the end of the year and then the remaining hires in the balance." 

To help offset the costs required to train new hires for mostly full-time positions in skilled designers, custom jewelry craftsmen, IT developers and sales professionals, Terryberry partnered with local economic developers The Right Place, Inc. and state partners from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to receive approval for a $250,000 Michigan Strategic Fund.

Byam says having the training program in place will help equip West Michigan jobseekers with talents that are often difficult to find in West Michigan. 

"In our business, specifically in West Michigan, certainly from a manufacturing standpoint, a big element of our business is the jewelry manufacturing – the custom emblems we use to symbolize awards, championship-style rings both for business and schools that have had success – and it's just really difficult to find people in West Michigan with those types of skills already."

Terryberry, alongside contractors AJ Veneklasen, expects to break ground in July on a renovation project that will bring the Grand Rapids headquarters from 47,000 to 53,000 square feet upon its late 2015 completion. Included in the renovation are the addition of a second story, increased office space, new machinery, an employee commons and other team member amenities.

However, Byam said the main focus of the expansion is to create more manufacturing space, though some upgraded amenities for staff will only be an added bonus as Terryberry's brand continues to expand both domestically and overseas. 

"The software side of things has been a real terrific platform for Terryberry to export, because it's a web-based solution and you're able to better assist global organizations because so many of our clients have locations outside of the United States," he says. "Through that, we see certainly in developed nations, our business really continues to grow within those countries as well, especially Europe."

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Terryberry, Inc.

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Happy Cat Cafe works to establish home in Grand Rapids

With over 2,600 likes on its Facebook page in just three days, the future Happy Cat Cafe is finally garnering the kind of public support it needs for entrepreneur Kati Palmurkar to create one here in in Grand Rapids. 

“It’s all large cities that opened cafes so far, but I know with Grand Rapids' focus on helping local small businesses, our tight-knit community could support this revolutionary idea,” Palmurkar says.  “I had to make a website in 24 hours just so I had somewhere to direct the traffic and give people more information. It seems like the cafe is something that people have been waiting for.” 

Palmurkar says the concept of a cat cafe grew in Japan and Taiwan in the '90s, with over 100 cafes in Tokyo alone. The space is half normal cafe, half “all-out cat room” - so, customers can order an espresso and a bagel from the non-cat area and then spend time playing or sitting with cats in a connected storefront. 

Palmurkar says she’s looking to feature local bakeries and coffee roasters, and already has plans to partner with local shelters to promote pet adoption, though the actual location is not 100 percent firm quite yet.

“This cafe is a partnership between so many parts of the Grand Rapids Community, and will be an oasis for animal lovers,” she says. “Why would you stop in at a normal cafe, when you can stop into our cafe and know that everything you purchase is benefiting the families cultivating the fair trade coffee, and the cats that will get a second chance at a forever home in the cafe, and is sustainability minded and cares deeply about our environment?” 

Palmurkar says she’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign soon to raise funds for redevelopment of a space, but thinks Happy Cat Cafe has a bright future in Grand Rapids. 

“I believe in the triple bottom line, people (and cats), planet, and profits,” she says. “Everything we do is to enrich the lives of the people and animals in the Grand Rapids community, and make our little corner of the world a little bit brighter — the whole ‘think globally, act locally’ has always been in my heart.” 

Visit Happy Cat Cafe on Facebook for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Happy Cat Cafe 

New West Coast-inspired retail opens in Gaslight Village, offers paddle board rentals on Reeds Lake

After hosting its grand opening event last week, Coastal Cruisin’ Threads is bringing the spirit of the shoreline to Gaslight Village in East Grand Rapids with its new West Coast-inspired retail space at 2249 Wealthy St. SE.

Co-owner Lydia Fotis-Sweetman says the shop will not only offer lifestyle apparel for women and men, shoes, accessories, jewelry, longboards and other gift items, but also carry sought-after brands like O’Neil, Quiksilver, Roxy, and Maui Jim for both summer and winter seasons with additional plans to both sell and rent out paddle boards for use on neighboring Reeds Lake. 

“Instead of going all of the way out to Lake Michigan to rent a paddle board, we thought it’d be nice to have somewhere right here in town you could just come down to and pick one up and take it out for an hour or half a day,” says Fotis-Sweetman, who has been renovating Suite 140 at 2249 Wealthy St. SE for the past six months with her business partner Ryan Taylor. 

The retail space saw a host of remodeled features, including a brand new floor with fixtures made from barn wood and new dressing rooms, throughout the 2,400-square-foot ground floor. 

“We both really like thrift-shop type of things, we travel and we like going into thrift shops,” Fotis-Sweetman says. “We love the brands that we're carrying. There really isn't anything like this around town, so it's kind of new and fresh. So, we wanted to bring that all together with the stand-up paddle boards in town as well, with the rental and the sales.” 

She says Coastal Cruisin’ Threads plans on hosting more community events in the future centered around paddle board yoga classes and non-competitive races that will be announced on its Facebook page as the store continues to hit the ground running this summer. 

“It's fresh,” she says. “We've had a lot of good feedback from people who really love the brands we're carrying…and also just the atmosphere, the feeling of the store itself — it's not like a regular store you'd walk into at the mall. It's got more of a beach feeling to it.”

To learn more about Coastal Cruisin’ Threads and stay updated on future community events, visit them on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of Coastal Cruisin’ Threads

Muskegon becomes latest MI city to adopt form-based code to guide new downtown development

In an effort to encourage more developers to create new, walkable spaces in its downtown core, the Muskegon City Commission adopted a new form-based code to guide redevelopment, receiving unanimous approval from both the city and planning commissions last week. 

Developed over the past year by Grand Rapids-based urban planning and design firms Nederveld and Williams & Works in close collaboration with the city of Muskegon and Downtown Muskegon Now, the form-based code was spearheaded by community meetings identifying “streamlining development and increasing tax base” as stakeholders' top priorities for the downtown area. 

Mark Miller, AIA and AICP for Nederveld, says contrary to many first impressions of the new development guidelines, the idea behind the form-based code model is not to regulate the creativity of architects and developers, but rather make the approval process for new developments much easier with a set of guidelines intended to help take out some of the guesswork that can often stall new projects in the planning phase. The city of Wyoming adopted form-based code in 2013.

“I think for the most part (Muskegon is) open to development just like most cities are, but the reason that we make the code more streamlined in terms of making that development process even easier is because we want people to use the code, build from the code,” Miller says. “We’re making it as easy as possible for a developer to use the code.”

Miller says form-based codes, in contrast to conventional zoning ordinances, “proactively shape our public realm through the use of form regulations.” For example, things like the transparency of window openings, facade composition and streetscape are regulated by build or type of storefront. 

Essentially, if a certain type of retail space needs x, y, and z building features to comply with the code, then any new proposal for that type of building that complies with the code and asks no exceptions for consideration may be approved by staff, bypassing the Planning Commission entirely. However, requests to build outside of the code will still require planning commission approval to more forward. 

“We’re not getting into telling them what color the paint should be or whether or not the building is in a traditional style or contemporary style - it’s not an architectural guideline,” Miller says. “It’s more like, ‘if you do these basic things, then your building will behave better on the street level,’ and the whole idea [behind] making that building behave is a way to accentuate the walkability and livability of downtown.” 

The new code also deals differently with parking for each new development, using language that encourages conservative use of parking spaces in a city where parking space makes up 20 percent of downtown land use, versus buildings and businesses, which are around closer to 12 percent. Miller says instead of using language that dictates minimum amounts of parking per building, the new form-based code will outline maximums, allowing developers to allocate parking space for only what is truly needed to accommodate the building’s particular use and offsetting service costs with more tax-generating land.

Right now, the form-based only applies to Muskegon’s downtown while the rest of the city’s single-family dwellings remain under the previous zoning ordinances. Miller says if the city of Muskegon wants to extend the code past the downtown core, it’s written to be transferrable, but right now the focus is primarily on creating new urban spaces. 

“You’ll hear people say they’re taking away from the creative aspects of design, but if you really look at this, we’re prescribing the essential things,” Miller says. “Where the building sits on the site, where the parking sits on the site, and the facade composition on very basic levels.” 

Click here to see a PDF version of the final full form-based code online, which includes somewhere around 170 images and illustrations accompanying the new language for Muskegon’s future downtown development, or visit Form Based Codes Institute online to learn more about how they work and how they’re being implemented by other cities. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Downtown Muskegon Now

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Escape Michigan to introduce first live-action room escape genre game to West Michigan in June

On the northwest corner of a 20,000-square-foot building at 2070 Waldorf St. NW, a group of five people are locked in one of three 2,500-square-foot rooms and given 60 minutes to solve a series of puzzles designed to lead players to a satisfyingly challenging escape. 

It's the premise Jim Burns' latest venture, Escape Michigan, whose simpler and much, much scarier tourist attraction The Haunt has been housed on he Walker compound for about 15 years now, bringing in more than 350,000 visitors each Halloween season it opens. 

“He’s always loved to build and to make things, so as far as entertainment attractions go, he loves to create something that can bring everyone together…” says Amy Johnson, marketing manager for Escape Michigan. “That was his background, he’s always wanted for people to have that shared experience.” 

Slated for a mid-June opening, renovations are currently underway for the first live-action room escape game to come to West Michigan, though the genre's venue had already become a fixture in cities like New York and Detroit and has origins rooted in the European adaptation of what was created as a digital puzzle game. 

“Jim realized it’s just a matter of time before there would be one here in Grand Rapids and a matter of time before the demand for that kind of activity would grow, too.” Johnson says. 

Each experience is led by one of the Escape Michigan game masters, who brief players in a staging room prior to locking the door and starting the clock at 60 minutes. Players can choose from three background settings that create the story for the room escape game — the first is called "viral outbreak," the second called "Spy's Safe House," and the to-be-determined third room, which is also expected to open alongside the others in June — and use problem solving and teamwork skills alongside hints and clues displayed on some kind of monitor in the room, typed by the gamemaster who is in charge of keeping the flow of the game from another nearby room.  

Groups of 2-5 can reserve an escape room for a flat rate fee of $125, with available game slots at 6:30, 8 and 9:30 p.m. — limited hours of operation that Johnson says Escape Michigan will adjust as demand for those kind of room escape game attractions grow in downtown Grand Rapids. 

The attraction is for all ages and Johnson says Escape Michigan has already received requests from work groups who want to use the escape game as a team-building exercise. 

“Jim will put together a very challenging but fun game, so it can really work toward this team building effort,” she says. “When you have a live integration game it not only challenges your brain but challenges [the] element of teamwork, which is something that will be a very central focus for these escape rooms."

Although the new attraction isn't accepting room reservations quite yet, anyone interested is encouraged to fill out the information form online to receive updates from Escape Michigan including more details about upcoming events and ticket availability when it opens next month. 

Visit www.escapemichigan.com to fill out the online form, or visit Escape Michigan on Facebook to stay updated on the official mid-June opening. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Escape Michigan

Ground breaks on eight neighborhood park renovation projects with 'watchful eyes' on progress

After two months of neighborhood workshops, community meetings and master plan revisions, renovations that seek modernize and update eight neighborhood parks are finally underway this week throughout downtown Grand Rapids, including Cherry, Fuller, Garfield, Highland, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Westown Commons and Wilcox parks. 

“We did sort of a grand unveiling of the plan in early December and those plans are very much informed by those different neighborhood groups coming together and talking about their priorities for the parks in their neighborhoods,” says Executive Director Steve Faber of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, who worked alongside the Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Department and Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Advisory Board to host the series of eight workshops that hoped to help with the response to a 60 percent voter approved property millage designated for parks, pools and playgrounds and expected to generate an additional $4 annually. 

Neighborhood Planning Teams were formed with residents from each park's neighborhood and teamed up with local design firms VIRIDIS and Progressive AE to help verify concept plans 
and identify improvement priority projects for each park based on what the neighbors there said they wanted or needed during these community forums. 

So, for Garfield Park, a new basketball court and more open places for groups to gather together win the first priority projects, while six out of eight total parks are pushing to create an accessible water resource through a "splash pad" or water playground. 

“You want to have the overall context of the plan in place, but focus on the top priorities specific to each neighborhood park,” he says, adding that while for Garfield Park that means a new basketball court and more places to spend time in groups, for six out of the eight parks receiving renovations, the "splash pad" or water playground was given top priority as a new, accessible water resource for the community members living there. 

Other reconstruction plans include updating equipment and facilities, including replacing or restoring restrooms, drinking fountains and playground, expanding or installing rain gardens, walking paths, path lighting and benches, improved green space, hard surface courts and fields, and new tree plantings. 

Faber says because of the community meetings, neighborhood residents are still engaged with the renovation projects even while construction is underway, sometimes calling him to offer a quick update on progress across the street. 

“We’ve got some watchful eyes out there now that these projects have broken ground,” he says. 

The projects all have varying competition dates, but all new amenities are scheduled to be ready for use by mid-August. For more information on individual park upgrades, or to see the entire Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation Master Plan and Green Grand Rapids Master Plan, visit www.friendsofgrparks.org or grcity.us. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks/City of Grand Rapids Parks & Recreation 

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KPMG LLP moves 60 GR employees to renovated space at nearly full 99 Monroe center offices

With its official grand opening celebration slated for June 4, U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG, LLP has officially announced it will move its 60 Grand Rapids-based employees to a new office space at 99 Monroe.

"Although KPMG has served clients in the Grand Rapids area for a number of years now, our needs and services have grown, necessitating a move to a new, larger, innovative physical space," says KPMG Michigan Managing Partner Heather Paquette. "We have a strong commitment to the Grand Rapids market and wanted this move downtown to reflect that commitment." 

Alongside an effort to accommodate increased firm growth, KPMG plans to expand client services to include more emerging, technology-based solutions – a perfect fit for the existing roster of 99 Monroe Ave. tenants curated by building owner Franklin Partners, says the real estate firm's CEO Don Shoemaker. 

"They're a perfect example of why we're so bullish on downtown Grand Rapids," Shoemaker says. "There continues to be a search for talented employees and employers are looking for, 'how do we attract the right employees?' In KPMG's case, like a lot of places, they're looking for tech-oriented people. Those people are in great demand and not as great supply, so we're paying attention to where we're located to attract those employee and how do we retain them?" 

He says Franklin Partner's high-tech, amenity-focused building renovations are exactly the kind of office environment young, tech driven talent is attracted to, and KPMG LLP fits the bill. 

"They're a great firm with great credits and a great reputation, so we're really excited to have them in downtown Grand Rapids," he says. 

Shoemaker says the remaining 9,000 square feet is already committed, putting the 12-story building at 99 Monroe at 100 percent occupancy – up from the 40 percent occupancy the building was at prior to the firm's purchase and renovation in 2012. Shoemaker is waiting for official signatures on the lease to release any more details on the final tenant, but did say the company has a small existing presence in downtown Grand Rapids and represents many of the same modern, tech-driven values as the other building tenants. 

"They're a good, stable employer. A great addition to the space." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Franklin Partners, LLC. 

Creston Market re-opens after renovation with fresh produce, craft beer selection, new look

On the heels of a major renovation that included a 3,000-square-foot expansion, a new walk-in wine cellar, produce section, and sweeping craft beer selection to boot, the early April re-opening of the new Creston Market was a long time coming. 

The building overhaul is a product of a nearly decade-long vision shared by Creston Market co-owners Tom Cronkright II and Lawrence Duthler, who have owned the building at 1043 Plainfield Ave. NE since 2005, but didn't gain full control over operations until last year when they bought out the former business owner. 

"It was really kind of a run-down party store," Cronkright says, adding that he and Duthler knew the community needed more than just a place to buy soda, beer and salty snacks. They needed fresh produce and healthier options, higher ceilings and more high-quality products. 

"It just needed so much work and frankly, the residents deserved more from that store," he says.

So, Cronkright and Duthler — who also co-own the neighboring title service Sun Title at 1410 Plainfield Ave. NE — created the designs for the new Creston Market themselves and shut down the space in mid-February to knock down a separating wall and utilize an additional 2,000 square feet that had gone untouched for over a decade. 

Alongside netting three new full-time and part-time jobs respectively, the renovation garnered the attention of the YMCA and New City Neighbors, who Cronkright says were looking for a corner store like Creston Market - which is located in what is considered an urban food desert, or an area where residents have little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables - to implement a pilot program with grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

"It was described to us as that they were looking to identify a store located in a food desert area and there was a grant that USDA, through the YMCA, was offering to help offset the cost of the cooler and the infrastructure needed to bring fresh produce into the store," he says. 

Now, not only does the YMCA deliver fresh produce on a regular basis through the pilot program, but the New City Neighbors urban farm initiative, which brings together local farmers with high school students to grow and stock organic produce, has planted its first seeds in the ground for what will eventually grow into a line of organic, seasonal produce available to Creston Market shoppers once harvested. 

"The case behind what the YMCA is doing with the program is not only to address the food desert, but also create [a] viable economic model they can show a store that says, ‘you should take six or eight feet of precious retail space to put in a produce section," Cronkright says, hoping Creston Market can serve as one of the first data sets that proves fresh produce can make money for corner markets still operating under assumptions to the contrary. 

Although sourcing products from local vendors is, in a sense, built in to the USDA pilot program, Cronkright says he and Duthler had independently set out to restock the market with an intentional focus on staying as local as possible. The market worked with GR Coffee Roasters to create a custom Creston Market coffee blend, and the pair curated a massive selection of Michigan-made craft beers to the store's inventory in addition to bringing in fresh donuts and other locally made goods each morning before opening.  

"We made it a point to say we’re from here, we’ve been educated here, we started our careers here and are growing our families here and we wanted the store to reflect as much as we could the fact that we’re working here with other Michigan-based companies as much as we can," he says. 

However, Cronkright says Creston Market's new look is part of a larger redevelopment effort that has been quietly bubbling to the surface in Grand Rapids' North Quarter for years, only now becoming tangible with a growing number of new developments that include 616 Development's new residential living complex and a yet-to-be-named brewery in the old DeKorne furniture building. 

"There have been a lot of stakeholders, both public and private, working tirelessly for the last 10 years on what we call the North Quarter and the North End all of the way up through Cheshire," he says. "My partner and I just went into this saying, Creston deserves better than what this store is offering them, and they've responded very, very, favorably…The neighborhood is going to change and it’s just going to become more diverse and we wanted to make sure we lived up to it." 

To hear owners talk more about making their decade-long vision a reality, click here to watch a short video introducing the new Creston Market, or visit www.crestonmarketgr.com to learn more about what May 18-June 12 special offers.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Creston Market

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GR Red Project adds second Madison Square office near mobile unit

Over the past three years, the Grand Rapids Red Project has seen tremendous growth. 

"We've doubled our annual revenues and our budget with grant funding from the state and Network 180 for our programming," says Brian Kelley, development and volunteer coordinator with GR Red Project, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to improving health, reducing risk, and preventing HIV." 

During that same time, GRRP's staff has grown from one to eight, and as a result, the organization is increasing its presence in downtown Grand Rapids, expanding its offices to include a second location at 401 Hall St. SE in the Madison Square neighborhood. 

"It's great location for us to be for the community we serve and services we provide," Kelley says. "It's a current location for our mobile unit, which is there once a week."

Kelley says a few years ago, GR Red Project did an assessment of community needs to determine the location for the mobile unit, which will now be able to service another downtown location yet to be determined. 

GR Red Project will keep its current office at 343 Atlas SW and begin moving part of its staff into the expanded offices throughout this month. 

The 1,500-square-foot space at 401 Hall St. SW is fittingly painted a fire engine red, with space inside to create four closed office spaces and one large community room, geared at being visible and accessible for those facing issues that are still very taboo in most communities. 

Kelley says creating a safe, accessible place where people can come find help free of judgment is important to the overall mission of GR Red Project and important to the overall health of the communities they serve. 

"Having a space to do it makes it a lot easier and provides those opportunities," he says. "It's important for us to be in these communities and to have a presence in each of the different areas of Grand Rapids to build those relationships with individuals." 

For more information, visit www.redproject.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of  Brian Kelley

LowellArts! plans for expansion into new gallery, workshop, performance space in downtown Lowell

In order to accommodate an increased demand for classes and gallery space in the Lowell arts community, the organization LowellArts! has purchased two properties in downtown Lowell with plans to renovate the space and reopen as a new gallery, workshop and performance space. 

"I would say, as far as our gallery space goes, right now we have possibly about 1,000 square feet in our room for hanging and displaying artwork," says Loraine Smalligan, executive director of LowellArts! "The new space has two times the space and there is a demand for us to have more room for displaying work." 

Since its inception in the late 1970s, LowellArts! has been located at 149 S. Hudson St., but Smalligan says the current space has little visibility from the street, with a lack of on-site parking and small meeting and classroom spaces that the community has outgrown.  

Located on the corner of Broadway and Main St. in historic downtown Lowell, the new space at 221 and 223 W. Main St. will give LowellArts! double the classroom size and allow them to open up new classroom programming with a focus on youth. 

"We really want to focus on youth classes to begin with," Smalligan says, adding that LowellArts! will also continue to add more adult classes, but since they already have an additional venue in downtown Lowell for adults, building more youth classes is currently the priority.

Right now, Smalligan says LowellArts! is only focused on developing and renovating the first floor, working with architects at Mathison I Mathison to open up the connecting wall between the two former retail locations and create a large gallery space. 

The modern update of the historic space will also include a new flexible, modular stage area for music and theater performances and, eventually, youth theater classes as well, with seating for approximately 50 audience members. 

"We don't have a performance venue that we own specifically," says Smalligan. "We use different venues in Lowell and sometimes it's a real challenge to get those to work out the way we want them to." 

Smalligan says in order to cover costs for purchasing the building and completing renovations, LowellArts! plans to launch a capital campaign that she expects to last about a year.  

"The earliest construction can begin on the interior is next summer and our goal would be to move in as soon as possible," she says, shooting for a grand opening event sometime in mid-2016. 

"The community is so enthusiastic about everything related to the arts," Smalligan says. "We want to nurture that interest and grow it so that the arts remain a vibrant part of life as well as the economy in this region." 

For more information, visit www.lowellartsmi.org or click here to see plans for the new space online. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of LowellArts! 
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